There is more local history packed into King George Park than anywhere else in Kentish.
Commencing as a neglected, unsightly cemetery, over time it has been transformed into a pleasant and attractive community park now containing our main public buildings. It has been the central meeting place for major community events such as Australia Days, Anzac sports, peace celebrations, coronations, centennial events and Christmas parades – some attended by state governors and even prime ministers. Buildings like the Town Hall and Service Tasmania have such interesting histories, separate articles will come later. What follows now is King George Park’s timeline, providing dates for the erection of buildings, monuments, and the planting of several commemorative trees.
1875, July 13 – Pioneer Cemetery
On 13 July 1875, the Kentishbury Road Trust chose land at the extreme western end of Sheffield to meet the urgent need for a reservation for the internment of the dead. It consisted of a 3½ acre semi-cleared site bound with log fences along High St and Albert St. Trustees appointed to the first Sheffield Cemetery Board were Alexander Turnbull, Reuben Austin, Wm Jackson, James Dooley, John Morris, James Butt and John Hope. Cost of interment: adult £1, under 12 10/-, stillborn 4/-, re-opening grave 10/-. The earliest gravedigger was Ephraim Doe Jnr who dug the first graves in parallel rows through the middle of the reserve, well back from High St. First internments in 1875 were: 20 July – Henry Harris (67) Kentishbury schoolmaster who died painfully of ‘blockage of urine’, 4 October – Elizabeth Morris (21) bronchitis, 12 December – John Charleston (45) bronchitis, 20 December – Christina Braid (12) bronchitis, all from West Kentish.
Complaints soon began circulating about this new cemetery. They are well described in this letter published in a May 1882 newspaper by an unnamed resident: I refer to the disgraceful condition of our cemetery. According to the Burial Act, graves should be six feet deep, but here in many places 3ft 6in is as deep as you can dig because of rock. Moreover, during the winter the drainage of surface water is so great that there is frequently upwards of a foot of water in the grave and, in some instances, stones have had to be placed on the coffin to keep it from floating. I am sure the townspeople are anxious that some better site should be found for our graveyard, especially as it being so close to their houses, there is more than a probability that the water we drink from our wells may be tainted by its percolation downwards through the cemetery. Both for decency’s sake and our health, it is only right to see about removing the site. Despite constant complaints, this burial ground continued to be used for 20 years until 1895, when a new 2¾ acre cemetery was opened 1½ miles from Sheffield along the road to Devonport. Last burials before closure were on 15 Jun 1895 for Mrs Margaret Davies (72) of West Kentish and 5 July 1895 for Joseph Keep (19) of Nook who died of TB.
If the Sheffield Town Board thought all their troubles were over, they were mistaken. Before long, local baker George Eastman complained that the old cemetery reserve was in a most disgraceful condition. Part of it had been let for agricultural purposes and many graves had been ploughed over. Others were trampled on during football practices and by straying animals. The Town Board resolved that the graves be fenced off and the remainder leased for grazing.
1909, Jan 11 – First Public Tennis Court. Local bank manager Robert Roberts became the driving force in getting a public tennis court and clubroom built on the corner of High/Albert Streets. Warden John Hope MHA and Club President Wm Luttrell opened the court before a crowd of 70 enthusiasts.
1909, Jun 18 – Court House/Police Station (now Service Tas). The old courthouse originally built in 1888 on Main St up the hill from Formby St corner was hauled to its new High St location and opened on June 18, 1909. Subsequently, the building had several different functions before it opened as a Service Tasmania shop in 1998.
1910, Jun 30 – Drill Hall (now the Albert Art Gallery) was built for the local Light Horse Brigade, who practised racing up and down the old cemetery reserve on horses using their staffs to pick up flags off the ground. Also used for compulsory military training in WW1, and since then, many other community activities.
1911, June 22 – Cemetery renamed ‘King George Park’
The largest crowd ever to assemble in the old cemetery reserve celebrated the coronation of King George V. Warden Arthur Dean of Railton renamed the reserve ‘King George Park’ and planted a commemorative oak tree in the centre of the park. Sports events were held in the afternoon, a fireworks display including a huge bonfire on top of the Badgers in the evening, followed by a concert in the Drill Hall. The next year, 170 English trees and shrubs arrived from Melbourne for the new King George Park. They were a generous gift from wealthy wool-baron Robert Kermode of ‘Mona Vale’, Ross, who at the time owned the ‘Glenmark’ property in West Kentish and was a regular visitor to Kentish. This commemorative oak tree lasted 90 years. During a windstorm on 30 Oct 2001, there was a loud crack as the tree split and fell with an almighty crash across a picnic table. Fortunately, it was too stormy for people to be in the park.
1914, Aug 19 – Sheffield Town Hall. On this date, an impressive municipal building with new council chambers was opened by a sombre John Hope MHA who, two weeks earlier, had informed Kentish residents that they were now at war with Germany. The Town Hall’s interesting history, including a perceived assassination threat to Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser just prior to making a speech there will be told another time.
1922, Oct 26 – Park Improvements. When the local Tourist and Progress Association became interested in the park, they pushed the council to ban cattle and horses from grazing there, allowing only licensed stock to remain. They also had an impressive entrance arch with ornamental ‘wrought iron’ gates erected between the Town Hall and courthouse. These gates were mounted on large wooden posts. But, because they impeded vehicular access to the park, were eventually removed. The Sheffield Tourist Assoc. also supplied new children’s playground equipment, which tragically led to the death of a small child on 14 July, 1928. Connie Porch (4) was playing near the heavy iron swings when she ran into the path of one swing as it came back and hit her in the face. Connie suffered serious head injuries, dying and in the Devon Hospital on her 5th birthday. She was the only daughter of Sheffield’s bootmaker Walter & Connie Porch and the first female child born into the Porch family in 100 years. By the mid-1920s, many gravestones in the old cemetery had fallen over, been broken, or not cared for in years. Blackberries covered many of them, becoming the perfect haven for rabbits, rats and snakes. From time to time, the Kentish Council had workmen clear up the broken headstones and railings, using some to fill in the town’s first swimming pool down near the recreation ground.
1926, Nov 20 – First Ladies Rest Room. This was a Kentish Council initiative designed to provide a resting place for country women with young children and babies whilst waiting for their husbands to return from the sales yards. Erected in High St by Wm Hennessey, this 12ft x12ft weatherboard ‘rest room’ was one of the first in the state; the idea being quickly copied by several Tasmanian towns. When it was realised later that the rest room was erected over two old graves, both families sought compensation.
1935, May 6 – King George V Jubilee
In celebration of the King’s 25-year reign, hundreds of Kentish residents assembled in the park and sang the national anthem, conducted by local businessman C R Morris. Interestingly, twenty-five years earlier, this same man – Cecil R Morris L.A.B. from Sheffield – then an aspiring 21-year-old pianist, was the official pianist for the King’s original coronation service held in the Albert Hall, Launceston. About 1935, a small tree grown from a seed of ‘the lone pine’ that stood on the slopes of Gallipoli was planted in the park. Nearby, local war veterans T J & Martyn Clerke also planted a horse chestnut tree that came from their old homestead Birchall House, Blarney, County Cork, Ireland. In April 1936 a galvanised shed was built near the Roland Masonic Lodge to house Sheffield Fire Brigade’s fire reel mounted on the back of a motor utility. Some original firemen included: Alec Edwards, Jim Sellars, Alf Sellars and Ron Atkins.
1937, Aug 13 Impressive Row of Palm Trees Planted. This was the vision of Alf Sellars after visiting St Kilda Rd, Melbourne. He persuaded his fellow members of the Sheffield Toc H group to plant nine Phoenix palm trees along High St between Main St and the Town Hall.
1938, Aug 14 – Kentish Pioneer Monument
James Braid wanted a monument erected in memory of the Kentish pioneers. To raise the £100 needed, pioneering families were asked to pay to have their ancestors’ names listed on the monument. Some families strongly objected to paying anything, hence their names are not included. Those who did provide information often made rough guesses about their forebears’ death dates and ages. Comparing the 142 names listed on the monument with the death register now available online, there are many inaccuracies – one by 20 years. The foundation stone of the monument was laid by James Braid on 19 August, 1937. The completed monument was unveiled by Prime Minister Joe Lyons on 14 August 1938. En route from Canberra to Sheffield, he stopped at Gunegui, Victoria, to open another pioneer monument – the Dog on the Tucker Box. This was one of Lyons’ last official duties in Tasmania. He died in office in Canberra some months later.
1938, Dec 1 – Sheffield’s Miniature Rifle Range was built on the western side of the Drill Hall by Ernie Lockwood. It was opened by Lieutenant Whiteside of the Defence Dept, Hobart. In charge was Senior-Constable A W Freiboth, who had been a gunner in WWI. Early members included L W Tankard, R Jones, J Howe, Dr. Wm Firth, J H Carey, F Carey, O Wootton & J McCoy.
1942, Oct 24 The centenary celebrations of the discovery of the Kentish Plains was attended by the Governor Sir Ernest & Lady Clark who planted a commemorative conifer tree in King George Park. On 15 & 16 August 1945, the victory celebrations to mark the end of WWII had many novelty and sports events, including a huge bonfire in the evening with effigies of Hitler and Mussolini shot before being cast into the fire.
1953, July 31 Kentish Memorial Library (now the Green Room). The old fire-brigade shed was removed to make way for the new cement brick Memorial Library opened by Hon Roy Fagan for a cost of £2,250. The first librarian was Miss Betty Morris, followed in 1957 by Mrs Eleanor Day who served for 23 years. After the library moved to the school, the building became a youth centre. In 23 Jan 2019 Mayor Tim Wilson opened it as the Green Room Youth Space.
1954, July 2 For Tasmania’s Sesquicentenary Celebrations, King George Park was upgraded with extra trees, shrubs, new tables/seats and more playground equipment made and installed by Bob Lockett. An oak was planted by Mrs John Stewart, the Kentish Warden’s wife, a beech by Mrs C A Lucas, wife of the president of the Parents & Friends Assoc., and a horse-chestnut by Mrs Tom Butler, wife of the local politician.
1955, Feb 10 New Ladies Rest Room (Kentish Community Rooms)
Local builders Arthur Provis and Sherriff replaced the original wooden rest room with a more elaborate cement brick building that complemented the recently completed Memorial Library. Between the library and the rest room, a monument was erected in 1958 to commemorate 50 years of local government.
1961 Child Health Clinic. After 20 years of mothers with their babies and young children struggling up the staircase inside the Town Hall to reach the baby clinic, a brand-new facility was opened next to the courthouse/police station in High St.
In the mid-1960s, the Sheffield Caravan Park was established close to the Drill Hall and ran for about 40 years. In 1968 the Kentish Council purchased land behind the Main St shops to enlarge the carpark. The Sheffield Bowls Green opened on 20 Sept 1969 and their present club facilities opened on 14 Sept 1985. To commemorate the International Year of Peace in 1986, a sun dial was erected by the Kentish Peace Group. A golden oak was planted in Aug 1987 to celebrate the CWA’s 50th birthday. Ten years later, in Nov 1997, a Himalayan birch tree was planted to commemorate 50 years of Lions in Australia. In Jan 1997 Mayor Laurie Connors opened new toilets close to the park’s entrance, whilst attractive playground equipment sponsored by the Hub Recycling Centre was erected by local Apex Club in Feb 1998 and a much-needed gazebo was built by the Lions Club in 2001. In 2003 Kentish Council and community combined to erect a skateboard facility behind the Masonic Lodge. Finally, on 22 Oct 2016, a skilfully crafted mosaic pathway across the park was opened that now makes Sheffield the Town of Murals and Mosaics.